Although the average doctor face-time is somewhere around 6-7 minutes with a pediatrician these days, it might actually be possible for the most dedicated among them to squeeze in a few potentially life-saving questions. Here are seven such queries that help educate and elucidate around issues of relationships, risk, romance and sexuality.
ONE: Who do you hang out with? Tell me about your friend group. (gently opening with relationships and friends...)
TWO: On the spectrum of gay to straight or somewhere between, where would you say you are now?(...recognizing that this is a spectrum and a fluid status....)
THREE: Have you ever had an unwanted sexual experience? Have you ever had a sexual experience you regretted?(.....letting the teen know that the doctor cares and that this is a safe place if and when he/she is ready to talk about it....)
FOUR: Have you had skin-to-skin contact below the waist with another person? That's skin-to-skin contact below the waist with any body parts. Think about that. (...avoiding altogether the concept of "sex" and getting at risky behaviours and a "spectrum" of sexual activity....)
FIVE: Would you say that your romantic relationships or dates have been respectful? How about safe from STD and pregnancy worries?(...allowing for some evaluation of relationships and permission to discuss concerns about STDs, contraception, power imbalances, abusive situations or unhappiness....)
SIX: How do you really feel about condoms? Do you know how to use them?(...recognizing that almost no one prefers them but hey! let's be real...what are the alternatives?)
SEVEN: (for boys): Do you know how to do a testicular self exam?(...healthy bodies are sexy and testicular cancer is a young man's disease)
On a given day I can imagine re-prioritizing these questions or adding others. But these seven are openers to many dialogues. It should go without saying that these conversations with teens need to happen in a private setting, without parents present, with the reassurance of confidentiality made explicit and with clothes on. For all parties, including parents in the waiting room, the benefit of these conversations is enormous and gratifying: healthier, savvier kids; reassured parents; and practitioners who know they have done their job well.
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